A New Year Poem: Rise Above

Rise Above

The world is full of people,
Content to be what they are
Who never know the joy of success;
They lack the will to go that far.

Yet in this world there is a need,
For some to lead the rest
To rise above the average life,
By giving of their best.

Are you the one who dares,
To try when challenged by the task
To rise to heights you’ve never dreamed,
Or is that too much to ask?

This can be your year,
For great purpose to achieve
If you accept the challenge,
And in yourself believe.

~ Anonymous

 

“I Am Me”: A Declaration for the New Year

On this new day of the New Year (2016), make a declaration to yourself:

I AM ME

I am me.
In all the world, there is no one exactly like me.
There are persons who have some parts like me,
but no one adds up exactly like me.

Therefore, everything that comes out of me
is authentically mine because I alone choose it.
I own everything about me
My body including everything it does;
My mind including all its thoughts and ideas;
My eyes including the images of all they behold;
My feelings whatever they may be…
anger, joy, frustration, love, disappointment, excitement
My mouth and all the words that come out of it
polite, sweet or rough, correct or incorrect;
My voice loud or soft.
And all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself.

I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.
I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.
Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me.
By doing so I can love me and be friendly with me in all parts.
I can then make it possible for all of me to work in my best interests.

I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me,
and other aspects that I do not know.
But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself,
I can courageously and hopefully, look for solutions to the puzzles
and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do,
and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is me.
This is authentic and represents where I am in that moment in time.
When I review later how I looked and sounded,
what I said and did, and how I thought and felt,
some parts may turn out to be unfitting.
I can discard that which is unfitting, and keep that which proved fitting,
And invent something new for that which I discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do.
I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive,
and to make sense and order out of the world of people
and things outside of me.
I own me, and therefore I can engineer me.

I am me and I am okay.

~ Virginia Satir (1916 – 1988, American psychotherapist)

 

The Most Valuable Currency According To Jim Carrey Is…

Some people say the biggest currency is money. Some would argue it’s time. Some would go to lengths to secure freedom. But I like Jim Carrey’s answer when he gave his commencement address at Maharishi University of Management in 2014.

Jim Carrey, 2014, MUM
Jim Carrey, 2014, MUM

 

Here’s the video, and a short transcript to what I think is the crux of the matter:

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

It’s not the only thing he taught me though, you know.

I watched the effect of my father’s love and humor and how it altered the world around me and I thought: That’s something to do, that’s something worth my time.

It wasn’t long until I started acting up.

You know poeple would come over to the house and they’d be greeted by a 7 year old throwing himself down a large flight of stairs.

They’d say: What happened, and I’d say: I don’t know, let’s check the replay.

I’d go back to the top of the stairs and come back down in slow motion. It was a very strange household.

My father used to brag that I wasn’t a ham, I was the whole pig. He treated my talent as if it was his second chance.

When I was about 28 after a decade as a professional comedian, I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, just like my dad.

And when I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion “The Church of Freedom From Concern” – the Church of FFC.

And I dedicated myself to that ministry. What’s yours?

How will you serve the world? What did they need that your talent could provide?

That’s all you have to figure out.

As someone who’s done what you’re about to go and do, I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is, because everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that is left of you is what was in your heart.” [about 13:40 in video]

– Jim Carrey, Commencement Address in 2014 at Maharishi University of Management

I have to say Jim’s really a buffoon, a satirist, a slapstick all joined in one. I don’t think I will take him seriously when I meet him in person.

But in the video above, Jim explained what his comedy was all about — and he went on to deliver one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard him speak.

And I finally understood him. And his humour.

And then I melted… and fell in love with the way he has used his craft to impact the world.

As a teacher, coach, public speaker, and now, a scholar (I am completing my PhD by January 2016), I have always been reminded that my knowledge counts for nothing, if what I do with it has no other impact in the world. In the classroom, my students wouldn’t care if I had a PhD, but they can smell a genuine teacher from afar. This is the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, a source I cannot verify though:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Till then, find your passion… fuel it with a strong reason… and change the world.

For me, the biggest currency there is, is LOVE.

 

 

Roleplaying: The Key To Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

“Do you know what I found?”
“No, what did you find?”
“Don’t blink.”
Tommy puts his hand into the bag and gets ready to surprise his brother with…

Roleplaying
Roleplaying

Roleplaying is one of the easiest ways to get people to overcome their fears of public speaking.

Theoretically, this is because you are playing another character. And when you are playing X, you are non-X. If you are playing Romeo, you cannot be yourself (Tommy). If you are playing yourself (Tommy), then your own insecurities will show up and you become more self-conscious of who you are, rather than trying to engage your audiences with your message.

When you play another character (or if you put on a role), you avoid the fear of being judged and criticised as you are. For example, if you were acting a timid character and you were seen shaking (even if it was a real visible nervousness on stage), it is interpreted by your audience as you playing that timid character. If you are being loud and boisterous on stage, you are only seen as a character and not yourself (thus get away with ridiculousness and even the occasional rudeness). Again, roleplaying helps the audience to see you as a character, and so you avoid the harsh judgements and criticisms as who “you” are. They could only “judge” your character’s actions, unless, of course, the character is so famous (e.g. Hamlet) that when an actor who plays him badly, it will be seen as an actor not clearly fleshing out Hamlet’s desire for revenge.

Putting on a character is like putting on the Emperor’s new clothes. You become bolder. You become stronger. You become whoever you want to be, conjured from your imagination. These could be stereotypes from fiction (e.g. evil stepmother, big fat pig, cunning wolf, the magician, Prince Charming, damsel in distress, hunchback), but they give you the permission to “play” a new role and be comfortable in a different skin, in a different voice.

But this is only the process.

This means that this is a process during the rehearsal phase, not the performance phase. You don’t “act” when you are on stage as you do not want to lose that sense of authenticity as a speaker. You don’t want to appear unnatural because the sense of flakiness can be seen from miles away, and unless you are a professional entertainer, you will appear gimmicky and unreal. So, how do you act and not-act at the same time?

On performance day, you would need to be vulnerable and honest as yourself. But in order to do so, a long process of discovery has to take place. Lee Strasberg, a famous American director born in Hungary-Austria (now Ukraine), who was most known for his Method Acting once said:

“The human being who acts is the human being who lives.”

But the one who acts is also the one who does, and feels. In other words, before an actor could play a role so well, he would need to understand the character’s strengths, flaws, motivations, desires, and all the back-story needed to flesh out a most convincing portrayal. But to be convincing requires personal work, a deep intense excavation and exploration of your own inner world, your own demons and angels. It is a process of stripping  away those layers of fears, of insecurities, of judgement, and allowing your body to feel free again, for your voice to express again. And this can only be done through drama games and activities that open up different senses: the kinesthetic, the auditory, the visual, the olfactory, the gustatory, the vestibular.

Through drama exercises, a trained drama educator or theatre director would help you to discover these:

  • find the ‘true’ intention of your character
  • express and emote the appropriate feeling
  • be playful and vulnerable
  • work as an ensemble, in collaboration with other actors and technicians

I remember performing in a piece of theatre once, titled ‘The Other Me’, where I was literally stripped to my underwear, with pieces of fabric tied around me as the co-actors walked in a circumference, almost mummifying myself in a push-pull constricted way. I had to deliver a painfully honest monologue. During the rehearsal, I tried different methods to portray that character, through various ways of crying, shouting, whispering, but my director did not like the portrayals. He didn’t feel it was authentic enough. I was probably too self-conscious of being scrutinised in the buff, hence the lines that I had delivered were stilted.

Even on the actual day of the performance itself, the last rehearsal was “barely average”; my character’s monologue did not have enough impact on the audience. Quietly, my director stopped all the activities, took me aside privately and told me to go into MY own inner recesses, to tap into my very dark place, a place that had a mix of horrifying and desirous images, fearful and liberating feelings. I was there in the imaginative world for a few minutes which seemed like Hell forever. He turned off all the lights and told the co-actors to wait for the cue. Blindfolded, I was ushered back to the stage (during the rehearsal – which was just 2 hours before showtime. Just imagine the stress!) and I delivered my lines from that emotionally complex world. Convoluted images of imprisonment, bondage, lust, sex, desire, pain, death, hell, judgement day, intimacy, freedom and confusion oozed out effortlessly from my mouth.

And then I felt it.
Silence.

A hushed silence.
I knew my audience (my co-actors and directors) felt it too.

I opened my blindfold and cried.
We knew the impact of those words of self-condemnation as spouted by that character. He became believable, finally.

And I had to recreate that memory 2 hours later for an actual paying audience, to make them feel the same way my ensemble felt in the rehearsal room.

That’s “peeling away”. I had to peel away “myself” to reach my core before I could put on that character’s story. And when I did that, I became authentic both in role, and in person.

After that intense process as an actor, there was nothing else I might fear. I had, ironically, become so true and vulnerable as a person that if I were to stand naked on stage, those vulnerabilities I had would have transmuted into other forms of energy needed to create an impactful delivery.

Public speakers, of course, do not need to go through an acting process. But there are processes that are less frightening than what I had gone through. Here are some of the photographs from a masterclass I facilitated to teach entrepreneurs to embody authenticity and structure their stories from a truthful and engaging place.

It was serious fun, seriously.

 

Masterclass (Pair Activity)Masterclass (Pair Work)Group ImprovisationGamesSleeping ExerciseBag Exercise

George Bernard Shaw once said:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

 

Some of the participants shared their testimonials with me after the masterclass:

“Thank you, Ed. You have something, Ed, it’s not a skill set; it’s more than that. I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it. Perhaps it’s what shines through when something is done with passion.”
CHRIS MARAIS, SOUTH AFRICA.

“It was an amazing experience. I’ve been to workshops for public speaking in the past but THIS really makes a change in me. Its about taking stories like when we are kids […]”
ELENA PELENDRITOU, CYPRUS.

“Before the workshop, my confidence […] was around 20 percent. But after today’s workshop, I can say with confidence that my ability and skill to share my story has increased to 65 percent.”
GEORGE CHISHIOS, CYPRUS.

“I really recommend that if you want to learn some strategies that will help you take your presentation to a higher level, I would recommend come to see Ed. It’s been a worthwhile experience. It’s brilliant. Ed knows what he’s doing.”
AHMED YASEEN, UK.

“The training is key. Everything we learned today, the drama, the character, how to engage with the audience are very vital for my business.”
ANDRE MARIE EYEBE, CAMEROON.

“To be honest, before I came, I was a bit anxious and afraid because I was not very comfortable sharing my story […] I was scared. I didn’t know what to say. But finally […] I’m very happy that I did it because I realised that drama and acting is very important when you’re doing public speaking. Because […] I have to do many presentations for my business, I realised that I really needed this session. Thank you, Edmund.”
IRENE THEOCHAROUS, CYPRUS.

 

This very powerful, experiential Masterclass will take place in Manchester on 30 August (Sunday) from 9am to 5.30pm.  Register now to secure a place. Only limited to 10 spaces.

Online Interview: Public Speaking Tips

In a late night interview with Oto Winkler, founder of Go2Max Lifestyle, Edmund Chow shares his views on the following questions that was posed to him:

  • how to overcome public speaking fears
  • how to introduce guest speakers (if you are the host)
  • how to develop a stage presence and make the audience love you
  • how to relax before coming on stage

The above interview is 36 minutes long. Here are Edmund’s answers in brief:

  1. HOW TO OVERCOME THE FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING.

    Answer: Recognise what the fear is and where it comes from

    – If it’s because of a lack of knowledge in the content area, you would then need to brush on your specialisation before going to speak to an audience.
    – If it’s because this is the first time you’ve spoken to a large crowd or heard your voice amplified through the speakers, practise speaking and singing in the microphone, e.g. in a karaoke bar.
    – If it’s because of self-judgement or anxieties over what the audience might think of us, learn to accept yourself first (you don’t have to be perfect looking!)

  2. HOW TO INTRODUCE GUEST SPEAKERS (IF YOU ARE THE HOST).

    Answer: Do your homework
    – Find out as much as you can about the speaker and his/her biography, achievements, accomplishments, past and current projects.
    – Check with the speaker beforehand if the facts are accurate and if s/he wants you to omit certain information or emphasise other points
    – Check the pronunciation of his/her name
    – Give a personal anecdote on how you met him/her, how s/he has influenced you, and why s/he is important as a speaker to this event and how it is relevant to your audiences.

  3. HOW TO DEVELOP A STAGE PRESENCE AND MAKE THE AUDIENCE LIKE YOU.

    Answer: Be yourself and be sincere
    Connect with the audience, smile, and maintain eye contact
    – Appear human by sharing your vulnerabilities, struggles, pains and how you overcame them.

  4. HOW TO RELAX BEFORE COMING ON STAGE.

    Answer: Physical Warm-ups
    – Vocal exercises (such as tongue twisters, siren), face massages, and physical games that involve a small exertion of energy (e.g. the 12345 shake-out) will help you remain ‘grounded’ and be in the present moment.
    – Breathe and be in your personal space.
    – Don’t think about what you want to say (i.e. your script). Just connect and go with the flow.

Public Speaking Masterclass in Audience Engagement on 14 August in Manchester based on an Actor’s Craft

This is Edmund Chow’s signature programme for public speakers, storytellers, entrepreneurs and anyone wanting to develop a dynamic stage presence. Here, Edmund uses drama techniques, games and exercises used in the rehearsal room with actors to train non-actors to be “in the body” and to “own the space”.

Date: 14 August 2015 (Saturday)
Time: 0900 – 1730h
Venue: Northern Quarter, Manchester city centre
Reservations: Click here at the Eventbrite page. (Limited to 20 students only)

A TED Speaker’s Speech Impediment and Ways to Overcome It

Before I heard Megan Washington give her talk at TEDxSydney, I have always used this technique with my students to help them overcome their stage anxieties, especially for the few with a stuttering problem: SING.

I have to admit I have not done much research before this, but from my drama coaching experience, I have found that singing really opens up an invisible connection from the articulators to the cerebral cortex and gestures.

In the ‘normal’ production of sound, humans make use of the lips, teeth, tongue, roof of the mouth (hard palate), alveolar ridge, velum (soft palate), pharynx, epiglottis, vocal folds, etc (see picture below) to allow a passage of air to pass through the oral cavity. The rounding of lips with an open mouth, for example, would yield sounds like “oo”, “or”, “oh”, but the pursing of lips would give a different set of “mm” sounds. This is the field of linguistics, and more specifically, phonetics. And for stutterers looking for help with speech impediments, a speech therapist could help.

Vocal Tract

 

But for me, especially in public speaking circuits, there are other voice exercises that drama practitioners and singing coaches often do to help speakers relax the vocal apparatus, which, to my relief, has been widely documented and acknowledged in the Hollywood movie, The King’s Speech. Here’s the video clip:

These are wonderful technical exercises, and sadly, not talked about or taught by professional speaking coaches in general. It is a real shame because a speaking coach is not one who can just deliver a good speech, teach you how to move or how to speak, but one who can also work professionally with someone with issues as fundamental as speech impediments.

I want to focus, again, on the impact singing has on the physiology to ease stage anxieties and reduce the level of stuttering and stammering. One favourite technique that I use and teach is the siren. The siren exercise is the gliding of a sound to the highest-pitched and then dropping to the lowest pitch. It As a warm-up exercise, this relaxes the articulators and the physical body tremendously.

The next exercise is to invite the stutterer to sing in a way that she or he is familiar with. I used to be a church cantor, so I teach my students to segment their sentences into phrases, singing it in an almost monotonous pitch, but rounding it with highs and lows at the end of the phrasing. It would sound like a religious chant, a little like this:

 

Just imagine how you might sound if you spoke your speech in a tune.

Alternatively, sing your own song like what Megan Washington had done so powerfully. Write your own speech and sing it, rhyme it, and make it into a hip-hop rap, if you need to. Add those funky moves too.

But if you are tone-deaf, here are other options. According to this source, it has been observed that when a stutterer is whispering, or speaking in a chorus, or when the stutterer cannot hear his or her own voice, stuttering is reduced significantly. Use a pair of sound-cancelling headphones to cover your ears and see if you can speak it.

So do not despair if you have a speech impediment. The truth is, your stage story is so much more powerful because of your vulnerability. After all, audiences connect to speakers not by what they say or how they sound (these are important nonetheless), but the heart-to-heart message that energetically moves one to tears or to action.

Speak up.
Your voice needs to be heard.
With or without a stutter.